Knox students get hands-on experience at Summer Forensics Intelligence Academy
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — A room inside Horizons Unlimited looks like a scene from the popular television show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” this week with students using real bones, teeth, blood, DNA and fingerprints to solve a crime.
“They are trying to figure out who it is and what happened to them,” Horizons director Lisa Wear said.
About 15 Knox Middle School students are participating in the first Summer Forensics Intelligence Academy, a partnership with Rowan Regional Medical Center.
The academy, which focuses on STEM initiatives, gives students an opportunity to learn about forensic science through a mix of field and lab exercises.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
Students used a bloody shirt found at the crime scene to conduct a DNA analysis Tuesday. They utilized micropipettes to transfer the DNA into a chamber that uses electricity to create a DNA fingerprint.
“I feel like a real scientist,” said seventh-grader De’onna Morris.
Blood typing was also done Tuesday in an effort to help the students narrow down the victim’s nationality.
Wear said that aspect of the academy draws on social studies skills because specific blood types can be more common or rare depending on location.
“We are using a lot of integration,” she said. “Students are using math to figure out the victim’s height and weight using the regression formation.”
The students have been working in Evidence Response Teams to develop a hypothesis through an eight-step process used by the FBI.
Wear said when students return to school this fall they will continue to use the skills they’ve learned.
“Those process skills can be used to solve problems that span all content areas,” she said.
Students figured out the victim’s height and weight based on measurements of the skeletal remains Monday.
Wear said they then plugged the specifics into software called Faces, which is also used by the FBI, to create a facial composite.
“Each team has their own version so we’ll find out who is closest to the photograph that we have Friday,” Wear said.
Later this week, students will conduct retinal scans, lift and identify latent fingerprints and make a dental identification.
“Students will be immersed in the intrigue, inner workings, and next generation laboratory techniques used in forensic science to solve complex crimes,” Wear said. “A series of intricate examination techniques and testing methods will lead students to the identification of unidentified skeletal remains and associated trace evidences.
“This is an exciting experience that middle school students will never forget.”
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All exercises are career-focused skills that can be found within different units of the FBI, Wear said.
“This reinforces the idea that learning math and science is for a purpose, to apply it in the real world,” she said.
They’ll visit Rowan Regional today for a presentation from clinical pathologists Dr. Rachel Ross and James Cervin.
Cesar Gutierrez, a special agent for the State Bureau of Investigation, will talk to students about career paths in forensic science Thursday.
Anne Ellis a science specialist at Horizons who is teaching the academy in collaboration with Wear, said the students came in Monday eager to learn.
“They are blowing us away,” she said, “not only with what they are able to do, but with what they are able to extrapolate.”
Seventh-grader Ethan Knorr said the first day started out slow, but quickly escalated into an exciting project.
“After the first couple of hours it went by so fast, and I learned so much,” he said.
Knorr said science has always been his favorite subject because he’s interested in how things work.
“I just like to experiment with different ways to use science and the crime aspect is neat,” he said. “It’s completely new and different.”
Science is also Malik Williams’ No. 1 subject.
“I really enjoy doing experiments and learning about body parts,” he said. “This (academy) is good for anyone who is interested in science and technology that might want to study it later in life.”
Roberta Moulton said she’s enjoyed getting to use the different tools available at Horizons.
“It’s really cool because I’ve never used any of this stuff before,” she said.
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The academy is an extension of a STEM recognition program the hospital launched last year at Knox during it’s first year as a STEM school.
Two students from each grade level were awarded the Rowan Regional Medical Center Presidential Award each quarter for demonstrating excellence with a STEM initiative.
Winners had to have at least a 95 average in science classes, 93 average overall, a teacher recommendation, an attendance rate of at least 95 percent, zero behavioral referrals and a natural curiosity and interest in STEM initiatives.
Those who received the award got a certificate, cash prize and a chance to take part in the academy this week.
“Our collaboration with Knox Middle School and their STEM program is a natural fit for Rowan Regional, and is a great investment for us and the community,” Dari Caldwell, president of Rowan Regional, said in a press release. “We feel it’s important to support programs that bolster the education of the youth in our community who may one day become leaders in STEM-related careers.”
Dr. Judy Grissom, superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System, said she’s excited students have had the chance to attend such a “unique and educational academy.”
“Rowan Regional Medical Center continues to be an invaluable partner with our school system and this academy is just one example of their continued support for education,” she said in a press release. “Because of this support, our students will walk away from this week with a greater appreciation and understanding of STEM in action.”
Wear said she would like to see the academy become an annual event.
“I hope that we will continue to offer advanced opportunities for students who show success and high achievement to reinforce that,” she said.
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The theme of this week’s academy will carry over into the school year as Horizons begins a new program called CSI Body of Evidence.
The program, aligned with the new state standards for science, will be offered to fifth-graders in Rowan and Davie counties.
“It will be similar to the academy, but not as extensive,” Wear said. “The new fifth grade curriculum focuses on body systems so we’re using a CSI format as an interesting way to teach that.
“We’ll look at how to evaluate body systems to solve crimes.”
Students will travel to Horizons for the one day workshop.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.